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Navy SEAL Quotes to Help You and Your Team Drive Organizational Transformation

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Maybe a bit overkill for the regular office, shopfloor, or warehouse, but still great messages that help us to reflect on what we can do to drive organizational transformation. As the past year has proven, few things are as critical as how we are able to not only manage, but to thrive in change.

As the speed of business accelerates along with the velocity of change, you also have to become more agile. That agility needs to be infused into your organizational culture.

Read more about the Navy SEALS in this, and other articles, by Brent Gleeson.

The following sayings are from the Navy SEAL Ethos and other Naval Special Warfare philosophies. When embraced properly and applied directly, these sayings will improve your organization’s ability to lead positive change.


1. Move, Shoot, Communicate.

To be an effective combat unit, each team member must be able to move, shoot and communicate seamlessly in chaotic environments. Communication being of the utmost importance. It’s no different during the chaos and stress of organizational change.

According to McKinsey & Company, 70% of organizational change efforts fall significantly short of meeting their objectives – in large part, due to poor communication both vertically and horizontally. When the vision and purpose for change (and the strategies and tactics necessary to fulfill that vision) are under-communicated, failure is most likely imminent.


2. My character and honor are steadfast.

Trust and accountability are imperative for successfully leading through change and ensuring a high level of engagement. These behaviors must start at the top but be owned by all – on and off the battlefield.

Character and integrity of leadership are essential for high-performance teams facing the battlefield of change.


3. I will never quit.

Students that successfully navigate the SEAL selection and training pipeline have this mindset. Organizational change usually begins with a rather significant leadership mindset transformation. Leaders and managers must start to look at their environment through a different lens in order to define the new vision and work backwards to discover the appropriate path towards mission success.

But organizational change typically takes longer and has more significant hard and soft costs than we anticipate. Change fatigue sets in – and that’s when even the most well-intentioned companies often quit trying before they reach the finish line.


4. Don’t run to your death.

SEALs train with the philosophy slow is smooth and smooth is fast. That’s how movements and behaviors become muscle memory – something imperative in high-speed combat situations. When we are on an enemy target, we move smoothly and dynamically assessing risk and using speed and violence of action only when necessary.

Organizational change fails when companies move too quickly starting on step 5 of the process – skipping fundamental elements such as aligned vision and culture. They run to their death and the change process eventually stalls.


5. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve.

High-performing teams rely on each other during the worst of times. In combat, you fight to protect the teammate on your left and right. And they do the same. These overlapping fields of performance are how we build winning teams greater than the sum of their parts.

Organizational change is only successful when the majority of the workforce is fully engaged and participate in the process. Unfortunately, according to 2017 Gallop research, only 15% of the workforce globally can be defined as engaged – with the majority being disengaged or actively disengaged (working against the organization, especially during transformation). Engagement must be a managerial priority for change efforts to succeed.

6. We train for war and fight to win.

SEAL training is widely considered the most challenging special operations selection process in the world. What most don’t realize is that the training is far more challenging and complex when you join the Teams. And in this post 9/11 reality, the stakes are high. More SEALs have made the ultimate sacrifice during training and combat than ever before. In fact, my BUD/S class leader (highest ranking office in the training class) passed away during Hell Week. Our training is dangerous because it must realistically mimic the rigors of real combat.

When organizations are facing major changes – or full-scale transformation – they must train for that battle in order to achieve the desired outcome. Accountability can’t exist unless the team has the proper training and resources to succeed. Expecting employees to adopt new systems, processes and even ways of thinking without appropriate investments in professional development is fantasy.


7. You can’t polish a turd.

Please excuse my use of terminology, but this one is important. The instructors used to say this when referencing students who kept making the same mistakes or didn’t conduct themselves with the appropriate amount of team-orientation and humility.

Remember the actively disengaged employees I mentioned above. They work against the organization during transformation efforts. Often times they are respected due to some level of subject matter expertise, but also happen to be a source of toxicity. These naysayers either have to get on board or be removed. And in my experience, these people can rarely be turned into change evangelists.


8. If knocked down, I will get back up. Every time.

Resilience is the bedrock of the SEAL mindset. Our nation expects us to be physically harder and mentally tougher than our enemies. That’s why we sacrifice so much just during the training process alone. Whether we are the most skilled warfighters on the battlefield or not, we never stop fighting. Ever.

Resilient organizations understand this. They have a healthy amount of paranoia and are constantly scanning the horizon for threats and opportunities. They bounce back from adversity stronger than before. Organizational change isn’t about reactively dealing with the changes we face today, but rather building resilient teams with the training, resources and mindset to proactively face the challenges that lay ahead.


9. I will not fail.

This is the last sentence of the Navy SEAL Ethos. Do SEALs ever fail? Of course. And when we do, dire consequences are sure to follow. This is an aspirational statement. Where we do not fail is our passion and willingness to keep moving forward.

When leaders face change and lead that change from the front with this mindset, success is more likely to be the outcome. Envisioning the win – and enabling the team to do the same – is crucial to success.

If these sayings and philosophies resonate with you, share them with your team!

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